In El Salvador, popular movements, student organizations and political parties took to the streets to denounce President Nayib Bukele’s authoritarianism. July 30 is a historic date for mobilization, as it recalls a massacre against students at the University of El Salvador in 1975, during the military regime. With “Never Again Dictatorship” posters, Salvadorans now denounce arbitrary arrests.
Last week, ten former government officials of the Farbundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) were accused of embezzlement, corruption, illicit enrichment and money laundering, having received between $100,000 and $500,000 in salary bonuses. In all, five people were preventively detained, Violeta Menjívar (former Minister of Health), Erlinda Hándal Vega (former Deputy Minister of Science and Technology), Carlos Cáceres (former Minister of Finance), Calixto Mejía ( former Minister of Labor) and Hugo Flores Hidalgo (former Minister of Agriculture).
Former President Salvador Sánchez Ceren was also accused and was not detained for being exiled in Nicaragua. According to Salvadoran media, “surplus wages” are common practices in the country’s civil service.
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The defense points out irregularities in the process, such as the fact that many accused were not even aware of the complaints when they were detained. In addition, the accusations were processed directly by magistrates of the Supreme Court of the country, without going through the Prosecutor’s Office, the body responsible for instituting legal proceedings.
“They didn’t show anything. Of course, we’ll appeal and I believe we’ll reveal another story. Due to their age and health condition, it’s quite feasible to get a good result [quanto ao fim da detenção provisória]”, declared the lawyer Eduardo Cardoza, who represents Erlinda Handal, daughter of Salvadoran communist leader Schafik Handal.
In May of this year, all representatives of the Supreme Court, as well as the Attorney General of the Republic were removed and immediately replaced in a single session of the National Assembly, with a government majority. The reform of the justice system was considered by analysts as a coup by Bukele and his party, Novas Ideias.
The president is now seeking to approve an amendment to the Salvadoran Penal Code to convert offenses against the public administration, such as embezzlement and corruption, into crimes that cannot be prescribed, which could lead to life imprisonment.
The Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), which presided over the country between 2009 and 2019, accuses Bukele of persecuting all opponents.
“Everyone is being threatened, blackmailed. We have to be brave. Many of us have been directly targeted and I don’t rule out that they could commit anything. Whatever happens, we’ll stay in El Salvador.” declared the general secretary of the FMLN, Oscar Ortiz.
Former ministers of the right-wing Arena party were also indicted in the so-called Operation Embezzlement, however they are free to respond.
Edition: Vinícius Segalla